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The October 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse at Angelo State University: Creating a Memorable Viewing Event for the Entire Community

A report on the outreach efforts on campus at Angelo State University undertaken for the annular solar eclipse of October 2023.

Published onMar 02, 2024
The October 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse at Angelo State University: Creating a Memorable Viewing Event for the Entire Community


The media coverage and outreach efforts before, during, and after the 2017 total solar eclipse that crossed the United States made the public much more aware of the excitement and rarity of solar eclipse events. With two solar eclipses occurring in a six-month period in 2023-2024, we should be able to reach many more people who may have missed the 2017 solar eclipse with continued outreach and education efforts. Texas is in a unique position for the 2023-2024 solar eclipse events because the paths of the two eclipses cross in the south-central region of the state. In addition, there are three major urban areas (San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas/Ft. Worth) within the path of totality for the April 2024 eclipse. It was specifically important for those of us in San Angelo to provide safe viewing opportunities because 1) we are one of the larger cities in Texas along the path of the October 2023 solar eclipse, and 2) because we serve a large area in west-central Texas with a diverse and mostly rural population. In the following account, we provide details of the activities and experiences of people attending the annular eclipse viewing event held on campus at Angelo State University.

1. Introduction

While it has only been about a decade since the previous annular solar eclipse cast a shadow on Texas, it has been much longer (over a century) since a total solar eclipse has. Because of the media concentration and tremendous outreach efforts for the total solar eclipse in 2017 that passed over the middle of the United States, the public is more aware of and excited about eclipse events. Add to that the fact that Texas will experience two solar eclipses — an annular and a total — in a six-month timespan between 2023 and 2024 and it is easy to see how large of an impact these events will have on communities across the state.

In August 2017, Texas was well outside the path of totality, but the city of San Angelo (with a population of about 100,000) still experienced a partial solar eclipse with 66% of the Sun obscured by the Moon. Because we were so far from the path of totality, and because the eclipse happened in the middle of a Monday, many people were at work or school and did not go outside to experience the event. However, a viewing event was organized on campus at Angelo State University (ASU) with local amateur astronomers setting up telescopes and passing out solar eclipse viewing glasses. (ASU astronomy faculty traveled to be along the path of totality.) Throughout the day, it was estimated that about 2,000 people came by the event to get glasses and look at the Sun through telescopes equipped with solar filters.

San Angelo was in the path of the annular solar eclipse of October 2023. Because this was a special type of partial eclipse and the event was happening on a Saturday, we – faculty, staff, and students at ASU – planned a large outreach event on the ASU campus, expecting similar numbers of people to attend. In the following account, we detail some of the efforts made leading up to and during the annular solar eclipse event, some of the lessons learned in the process, and how these can be applied to the total solar eclipse in April 2024.

2. Preparation

In the summer of 2023, ASU faculty offered two professional development opportunities for elementary and secondary teachers in our region. A one-day workshop was offered at the Education Service Center for Region 15 (ESC15, serving 45 school districts in west Texas) that focused on the motions of the Moon and Earth, as well as the special alignments that create eclipse events. Eye safety and various viewing techniques were also discussed and demonstrated. There was also a weeklong workshop for K-12 teachers that covered a variety of Earth and space science topics offered on campus at ASU, sponsored by the Halliburton Foundation. Part of one day was similar to the professional development opportunity offered at the ESC15.

eclipse glasses
Figure 1

The design of the eclipse glasses purchased to give away.

Thanks to a Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) grant the university received in 2021 to increase Hispanic and low-income student enrollment in STEM programs, we were able to purchase 100,000 pairs of solar eclipse safety glasses (Figure 1) from Rainbow Symphony to give out to schools across our region of Texas. The annular solar eclipse was an ideal opportunity to expose community members in general, and students in particular, to science and higher education. We gave away over 39,900 pairs of eclipse glasses to 90 different grade schools and school groups, and we plan to give away the rest of the glasses in preparation for the April 2024 total solar eclipse. With help from the ESC15, the glasses were picked up, delivered, or shipped to the schools to be distributed to students before the eclipse. Along with the glasses, we shared eye safety information from the American Astronomical Society (AAS), and we had videos created — in both English and Spanish — outlining how to safely view an eclipse. The videos also provided general educational information about solar eclipses to support teachers explaining the eclipse in their classrooms and to build excitement about the regional event. All videos were paid for by the HSI Grant and can be accessed through the ASU eclipse website and YouTube channel.

ASU was also given the opportunity to host the Fall 2023 Joint Meeting of the Texas Section of the American Physical Society (APS), Texas Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), and Zone 13 of the Society of Physics Students (SPS). This joint meeting between the APS, AAPT, and SPS brings together educators and researchers from universities and colleges, educators from secondary schools, and undergraduate and graduate students from across Texas and neighboring states. The meeting coincided with the annular solar eclipse, so we hosted special workshops with eclipse-related activities and gave out eclipse glasses to attendees.

3. Alternatives to Eclipse Glasses

Eclipse glasses are only one way to view an event like this, and this method is not the easiest for every individual - there are a number of reasons why wearing a pair of glasses would be problematic. Therefore, we researched and built other ways of viewing the annular solar eclipse.

people holding up special boxes to look at the Sun safely
Figure 2

Multiple people using the viewing boxes created for the annular solar eclipse event at ASU.

a person taking a photo with a cell phone of the Sun through the special box
Figure 3

A person taking an image of the eclipse with their cell phone and a viewing box.

     What turned out to be one of the most popular devices was a simple eclipse viewing box. Some examples of attendees using the constructed viewing boxes can be found in Figure 2, (ref?), and Figure 3. These boxes were easily held by attendees of all ages, and they were especially helpful for those who could not comfortably wear eclipse glasses. As can be seen in Figure 3, it was also easy for people to attempt to take their own eclipse photos through these boxes.

The viewing boxes were relatively inexpensive to make, with each box costing about $5 in materials. Bulk rolls of solar filter material purchased from Thousand Oaks Optical were cut into 12-inch squares and secured between two wood frames. The wood frames were 1-inch wide (from outer to inner edge, all lumber sizes are nominal, not actual) cut to be two inches deep for the bottom section and one-inch deep for the top. The two frame pieces were separately sanded, glued, and nailed to assemble. The solar filter film was then stretched between them, and the top and bottom frames were nailed together to hold the film in place. In total, 110 viewing boxes were built. Images of the constructed boxes, with a ruler for scale, are given in Figure 4 and Figure 5.

Box with a ruler
Figure 4

A closer view of one of the viewing boxes with a ruler for scale. The completed boxes were 12 by 12 inches.

side view of the box with a ruler
Figure 5

A side view of one of the viewing boxes with a ruler for scale.

Another viewing alternative at our event was based on the Safe Solar Viewer design by Richardson (2024).  Safe Solar Viewers use lenses to magnify and project an image of the Sun onto white paper, much like a solar telescope. Our viewers used lenses purchased from Surplus Shed, as recommended by Richardson.  We used boxes from rolls of poster printer paper (roughly 5x5x44 inches) cut to the appropriate length (36 inches). An example of one of these viewers can be seen in Figure 6. Magnified views of the Sun during the partial phases before and after annularity allowed attendees to easily see sunspots.

long cardboard box, solar viewer, with piece covered in foil with a hole in the middle and a ruler in the front.
Figure 6

Our version of the Safe Solar Viewer as originally designed by Richardson

Other people attending the annular solar eclipse event also brought alternative ways of viewing the eclipse. Pinhole projectors of various types and sizes were common, and a disco ball reflected multiple images of the eclipse on a nearby wall.

4. Engagement Activities

In anticipation of large attendance, we blocked off three parking lots using barricades. In the parking lots, 11 registered ASU student organizations, two community groups, and multiple STEM departments set up booths with giveaways (including buttons and stickers from the physics and geosciences department), hands-on activities, and informational materials. Activities included the game corn hole, virtual reality (VR) gaming, and physics-themed coloring books. A few groups brought telescopes, and the ASU Planetarium put on several shows. The ASU College of Science and Engineering purchased bottled water and ice to fill several coolers for participants to enjoy for free. In various spots across campus, food vendors offered nachos, sausage wraps, and other food items. We also had a DJ come out to play music, make announcements about the various events across campus, and do a countdown to the annular portion of the solar eclipse. The DJ made for an extra fun environment; we even had people line-dancing in the parking lots! Soon after the annular solar eclipse, the ASU Mariachi band, Mariachi Los Pastores, performed under the pavilion. This was a huge hit among participants.

Coincidentally, ASU hosted its annual Ram Preview Day on October 14th. This recruiting event brought over 330 people to campus. The Dean of the College of Science and Engineering attended this event and personally distributed glasses and eye safety information to all participants and encouraged them to step outside to view the eclipse. We heard great feedback from the prospective students and their families who attended the event. Some said it was the highlight of their weekend.

4.1 Guest Lectures

Two public lectures were given during ASU’s annular solar eclipse event. Ginger Kerrick Davis, a former NASA flight chief and the first female Hispanic flight director in the history of NASA, talked about her experiences at and path to NASA. Ms. Kerrick Davis is a graduate of Texas Tech University and is now a member of the Board of Regents for the Texas Tech University System, of which ASU is part, so having her on campus was a great inspiration for many young people in our community.

Dr. Rachael Beaton also gave a public lecture about the history of eclipses and the science that has been done during solar eclipse events. Dr. Beaton is an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) working on the next generation of space telescopes, including the upcoming Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope. Her talk was also very well received and an excellent opportunity for community members to hear someone from a well-known institution speak on eclipse-related topics.

4.2 Telescopes

Several people had telescopes, some with eyepieces and some with cameras, set up for viewing the annular solar eclipse. The physics and geosciences department had a Unistellar eVscope 2.0 in use, which made it easy for attendees of all ages to easily view live images of the solar eclipse using a tablet. We also had an Askar FRA500 telescope with a solar filter and ZWO 1600 camera to both take images during the eclipse and for people to safely view the Sun on a computer screen. Figure 7 shows a sequence of images taken with this setup.

montage of the Sun during the eclipse
Figure 7

A sequence of images of the annular solar eclipse as seen with the Askar FRA500 telescope set up on ASU’s campus.

4.3 Planetarium Shows

Throughout the late morning and into the afternoon, ASU also hosted six free showings of “Totality Over Texas” in our university planetarium with an average attendance of about 80 people per show. This show explains how eclipses work and gives details on both the annular solar eclipse in 2023 and the total solar eclipse in 2024 as seen from Texas. This planetarium program was provided for free by Rice University.

4.4 Mayer Museum

The ASU Mayer Museum served as one of the eclipse viewing locations on campus and hosted several activities for the public. Museum staff created an activity sheet for children with information about solar eclipses (Figure 8). Visitors could work on the activity sheet at the museum while they watched the eclipse or take it home with them. Many visitors used the museum’s Kid’s Cave area to complete the activity sheet.

cover sheet with Sun, Moon, and Earth
Figure 8

The cover of the solar eclipse activity sheet created by Mayer Museum staff for attendees to complete and take home.

The museum also brought out its Curiosity Cart, which hosts object-based learning experiences that help participants connect to the world around them. Museum staff used scale models of the Earth and Moon to demonstrate what happens during a solar eclipse using a flashlight to represent the Sun.

exhibit - two displays side by side with space memorabilia inside
Figure 9

The special Moon exhibits on display at the Mayer Museum on campus at ASU.

The Mayer Museum also paid tribute to the Moon, one of the two celestial objects responsible for the October cosmic event, by creating two exhibits with objects from its collection (Figure 9). The first exhibit highlighted the Apollo 11 Mission, which performed the first crewed lunar landing and featured a commemorative plaque along with memorabilia gifted by Neil Armstrong. The second exhibit highlighted the Space Shuttle program and the ingenuity of its thermal protection system, which allowed the Space Shuttle to safely re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

The museum also created an outside play area called The Launch Pad for little ones to enjoy. Museum staff placed four structures shaped like rocket ships in the grassy area outside the museum, creating a safe area for small children to play while their parents watched the eclipse.

4.5 Outreach Booths

Physics and Geosciences

We wanted our annular solar eclipse event to be something that people would remember for a very long time, so swag and giveaways were a must. These included vinyl stickers – which students love to place on their laptops, water bottles, and coolers – and buttons that would make long-lasting keepsakes.

The physics and geosciences department purchased a button maker kit from ChiButtons on Amazon. The kit came with the 37mm button maker, a 37mm circle paper cutter, and 200 button components (round die molds, plastic covers, and metal pin backs). This was augmented with 37mm button-making supply sets. A geosciences faculty member created several button designs for the event, which were printed out and assembled into buttons by undergraduate students in the weeks leading up to the eclipse. Some larger 58 mm buttons (supplies also from ChiButtons) were also made. Ultimately, many more button supply kits of each size were purchased, and hundreds of buttons were made. We also ordered three custom vinyl sticker designs through Sticker Mule to give away.

On the day of the annular solar eclipse, the department of physics and geosciences booth passed out stickers and pre-made buttons along with providing the alternative viewing methods described above. Participants also had the option to make their own buttons. Children and adults alike could create a design of their choice on blank paper circles with markers of many different colors. Participants drew everything from rainbows and unicorns to their own renditions of the eclipse. We used the button maker to turn the masterpieces into buttons attendees could save forever, which was a hit with our big crowd!

American Physical Society

The American Physical Society (APS) sent an undergraduate Student Ambassador from the University of Texas at Austin to host a booth with free physics outreach goodies and informational materials for student physicists. The physics swag made the booth very popular, and volunteers took the opportunity to engage visitors in conversations about the eclipse-related physics. The booth distributed APS branded pens, coloring books, enamel pins, and brochures advertising student membership benefits. The coloring books, titled Color Charge, featured images from real physics journal articles with informative explanations at the bottom of each page. Additionally, the enamel pins depicted Schrödinger’s cat, offering the fantastic opportunity to teach dozens of San Angelo community members of all ages about the famous physics thought experiment. Many visitors to the booth had students in their family circles and thus took informational brochures to share with the young physicists in their lives.


The David L. Hirschfeld Department of Engineering both hosted a booth and provided lab tours of the Hunter Strain Engineering Labs. Community members were provided with information about the ASU engineering program and given pens and other giveaways. Volunteers spoke with prospective students and informed them of scholarship opportunities. There were also a variety of board games for community members to play during the event. Lab tours by engineering students were offered on a come-and-go basis and were advertised at our booth and by the DJ. During the lab tours, community members learned about the engineering department’s history, lab equipment, and student projects.

In addition, the engineering student group Rams and Rockets helped attendees build helicopters made with paper, a paper clip, and a few cuts using scissors. When dropped, the helicopters automatically spun and slowly fell to the ground. Not only did kids and adults have a lot of fun with this activity, but they also learned about the concept of autorotation, which is being implemented into a payload for a rocket design currently being worked on by the student group.


In another booth, a chemistry faculty member presented dye-sensitized solar cells they had made. The cells were made from glass with a conductive surface, titanium dioxide, and dye molecules from blackberry juice. Suspended titanium dioxide particles were spread on one of the glass pieces then heated to form a solid but porous film on the glass. The coated glass was then exposed to blackberry juice, and the dye in the juice binds to the titanium dioxide, staining it a purple color. Another piece of conductive glass was then pressed on top, along with a small amount of electrolyte solution, to help electrons move through the system. An image of the cells being shown to attendees can be found in Figure 10. A setup of a few cells in series was enough to provide 2 V and light up a small LED in direct sunlight.

man with a demo on a table
Figure 10

The dye-sensitized solar cells created for and demonstrated at the solar eclipse event.

Attendees were very impressed that working solar cells could be made from such cheap and easily available materials as blackberries and titanium dioxide. This encouraged conversations about the advantages of solar energy and made a positive impression on many people.


The biology department’s booth had various engaging activities to promote eye safety and education. Members of the Tri-Beta Biological Honor Society distributed eclipse glasses and discussed eye safety tips with attendees through the use of anatomical models and diagrams. They also discussed with people how the eye functions, and everyone seemed enthusiastic to learn more about the eye.

Students also helped attendees craft lanyards to hold eclipse glasses around their necks and create sleeves for storing the glasses. This approach made it easy to store the glasses for future use and encouraged reuse of the glasses for the upcoming total solar eclipse in April.

5. Lessons Learned and Outlook for April 2024

Our on-campus annular solar eclipse event at ASU was a huge success. We had an estimated 2,000 attendees, for whom we provided a wide variety of activities throughout the late morning and early afternoon. The event allowed people of all ages to learn about our university, our STEM departments, and many different science topics related to the Sun and viewing eclipses. Our efforts were focused on making the event accessible to everyone and generating excitement for STEM, especially among the younger attendees.

The alternative viewing methods were very well received, especially the viewing boxes we built. Sharing the boxes, however, was at times difficult. This was due in part to the fact that many people did not realize the boxes were not available to take with them (about 20-30 boxes disappeared from the booth). In addition, many people preferred to use the boxes instead of wearing eclipse glasses because of the ease of use. For the April 2024 eclipse, we plan to put markings on the boxes to indicate they are ASU property and not to be taken from the booth. We might also create a smaller viewing area and only allow people to use the boxes in this space. While it would be great to have enough boxes for everyone attending to use simultaneously, and even take with them, this does not seem practical given the cost and the amount of time required to build them.

ASU undergraduate students were a huge part of our outreach effort. Students are excellent ambassadors for the community in general and for school-aged children in particular from their participation, we hope we inspired more students to pursue degrees in STEM fields and to participate in science more generally.

There will be some challenges for the upcoming total solar eclipse in April 2024. The eclipse is on a Monday, which makes participation from children in primary and secondary school more difficult. It will also be more difficult for adults to participate since the eclipse will occur in the middle of a workday. This is especially true for people from smaller surrounding communities. Therefore, it will be important for us to focus on training people in various communities so that there are many more local efforts and places to view that event. We hope that our efforts at the October 2023 annular solar eclipse event can be replicated on a smaller scale in other places to provide positive experiences for everyone in April.


This outreach event was funded in part by an HSI grant from the U.S. Department of Education, award number P031C210174.

We would also like to acknowledge the Halliburton Foundation Educational Advisory Board for its ongoing support of our summer teacher workshops.

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